Once there was a liberal clergyman who became pastor of a somewhat traditional church, and after a few weeks of listening to his modernistic, politically-correct preaching, some of his parishioners came to him and asked, “Reverend, do you believe in the devil and in hell?” The pastor scoffed at these ideas and responded, “No, of course not; those are silly medieval superstitions.” To this, the parishioners said, “Well, then, please resign and go somewhere else—for if there is no devil and no hell, we don’t need you, and if there is a devil and a hell, we don’t want to be led astray by you” (David F. Burgess, Encyclopedia of Sermon Illustrations, #451).
The Church has always taught the reality of the devil, and the possibility of being eternally damned along with him as a result of the spiritual warfare he wages against us. For instance, Pope Francis has stated that the devil “exists in the 21st century, and we need to learn from the Gospel how to battle against him,” and also that “the presence of the devil is on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends as well with the presence of the devil, with the victory of God over [him].” It is not only mistaken, but also spiritually foolish—and potentially disastrous—to deny or ignore the devil’s existence. He hates each one of us personally, and is always plotting and working against us, seeking our eternal damnation. Only by remaining on guard against him, and by using the spiritual weapons and defenses the Lord provides us through the Church, can we be sure of defeating his attacks and of one day reaching our true home in heaven.
Jesus uses the image of weeds among the wheat to explain why evildoers are to be found in the world and even in the Church. However, it’s also possible to interpret this parable on a more personal basis: namely, Satan is trying to sow his evil seeds of sin and spiritual destruction in our own lives—and it’s our duty guard against this threat. The devil studies us very carefully, taking note of our strengths and weaknesses, our habits and inclinations, and he shrewdly chooses the particular temptations and attacks best suited to overcome us—all the while striving to work behind the scenes without us suspecting anything. Therefore, it’s good to ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. In this regard, we might ask ourselves: what particular evil seeds is the devil attempting to sow in the field of our lives?
The Church speaks of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” which are anger, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, and sloth or laziness. Every human being is weak or easily tempted in at least one of these areas, and probably several of them—and so these are usually the focus of the devil’s attacks.
In regard to anger, for instance, the devil wants us to nurse grudges and refuse to forgive other people, to become impatient with their failings, and to overreact to the things about them that annoy us.
Satan tries to use the sin of envy against us by getting us to compare ourselves with others, to adopt an “entitlement mentality,” and to consider ourselves better than those around us.
Because we Americans are, compared to most people, very self-indulgent, the devil has found gluttony to be a fertile field for his evil seeds. He tempts us to overdo life’s legitimate pleasures, to disdain or reject sacrifice and self-control, and to ignore other people’s poverty or suffering.
Greed is also a common weakness in our society, so Satan tempts us to want more money and possessions, more technology and convenience, and more luxury and leisure—when we should instead be concerned with storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven.
Lust is a particularly fertile field for the devil’s seeds; as Our Lady of Fatima revealed, more souls are in hell for sins against the 6th Commandment than any other. Satan is constantly tempting us to misuse sex, to glorify and expose our bodies, and to treat other people as objects for our own pleasure.
Pride is the sin which transformed Lucifer, the greatest of all the angels, into the hideous creature of Satan—and so the devil delights in using this sin against us. He wants us to think, “I’m superior to others, I know what’s best for me, and no one is going to tell me how to live my life”—for such attitudes make spiritual growth impossible, while causing us to reject the God-given authority and saving power of the Church.
Even if all these temptations fail, the devil will try to get us to fall victim to sloth, or spiritual laziness, in which we know we have to repent or take our spiritual duties more seriously, but we just can’t motivate ourselves to get started. Instead of striving for holiness, Satan wants us to settle for being good enough—for that may eventually allow him to turn us against God.
Other snares of the devil include poisoning our relationships, distracting us with this life’s concerns so that we’re always too busy or preoccupied to pay attention to God, making us afraid to do what’s right because of what other people might say, inflating our egos by appealing to our natural desire to be popular and praised by others, and trying to discourage us by convincing us we’ll never overcome our faults and that holiness is beyond our reach.
Farmers use weed-killers or pesticides to prevent or remove weeds in their fields, and fertilizer to nourish the crop and bring about the greatest possible growth. The most potent weed-killer against Satan’s evil seeds of spiritual destruction is humility. The more we humble ourselves, the more God’s grace can be at work within us, helping us overcome our faults and grow in holiness. In particular, frequently examining our consciences and regularly receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation will ensure the devil will not gain a solid foothold in our lives. As far as the spiritual fertilizer we need, worthily receiving Holy Communion each weekend is the single greatest thing we can do to be made ready for eternal life in heaven. Other valuable means of tending the field of our souls include reading the Bible and other worthwhile spiritual books, setting aside time for prayer every day, seeking God’s guidance in all our decisions, learning more about our Catholic faith, submitting to the authority of the Church on moral and religious issues, praying for the conversion of sinners and for the souls in purgatory, and cultivating a loving relationship with the Virgin Mary, our guardian angels, and our favorite saints. Satan is real; he is hate-filled and dangerous, and is conducting spiritual warfare against each of us personally. However, the devil is doomed to fail—if we take our faith seriously, and if we make a loving relationship with Jesus our highest priority.